New study shows #Durango’s #water supplies declining dramatically as #ClimateChange, #drought hit home — @WaterEdCO #FloridaRiver #AnimasRiver

Florida River near Durango airport, at Colorado highway 172. By Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

Climate change has come home to Durango, with a new study indicating that the once water-rich mining and railroad mecca is much drier than it once was, so dry in fact that the city can no longer depend solely on direct flow from the Florida and Animas rivers for a reliable supply of water.

Like other small towns in Colorado, Durango has very little water storage, enough to last for less than 10 days. It has always relied on its ability to pull water directly from the Florida River, using the Animas River as backup. But that is no longer possible, prompting the city to fast-track a major regional pipeline project to tap storage in Lake Nighthorse and to double down on conservation.

Larger cities often have water storage reservoirs that can carry them for months if not years during dry periods. But that’s not necessarily the case in smaller rural and mountain towns.

new study of stream gage data conducted for Durango by the Silverton-based Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) shows that average annual precipitation in one of the town’s major watersheds has declined as much as 19.7% annually since the late 1980s and runoff, the water that eventually makes it to the stream, has dropped even more, as much as 35.7% in the Florida (pronounced Floreeeda) River watershed. The same trend, though to a much lesser extent, is also showing up in the Animas River watershed.

“It’s eye opening,” said Jarrod Biggs, Durango’s assistant finance director who has overseen much of the city’s recent water planning efforts. “It’s confirmation of what our anecdotal evidence has told us. It doesn’t go down to nothing, but it is a significant difference from where we were a decade or two ago.”

Jake Kurzweil, a hydrologist and associate director of water programs at MSI who conducted the study, said the declines help illustrate on a local level how watersheds have begun to dry out as the climate warms. The data also measures how much water the natural environment uses, essentially intercepting runoff before it can reach streams, which cities, farmers and industry tap for their water supply needs.

In the Florida River analysis, a measure known as the runoff ratio is markedly declining. The ratio is obtained by taking annual runoff and dividing it by precipitation.

Changes if Florida River water supply. Credit: Chas Chamberlin/Water Education Colorado

“The runoff ratio is showing us how efficient the watershed is at generating water. Not only are we getting less precipitation, the efficiency of the watershed is also declining. My hypothesis is that we are well below the environmental demand for water,” Kurzweil said.

Similar trends are showing up in the Animas watershed, but right now they are not as alarming as those in the Florida. Kurzweil said because the Animas watershed is bigger and its terrain is more diverse, it is better protected from the harsh temperatures and strong sunlight that have driven the drying trends on the Florida River.

Peter Goble, a climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center housed at Colorado State University, cautioned that the region’s 1,200-plus-year megadrought likely exaggerates the level of declines seen in the MSI data. He also said that long-term climate warming forecasts don’t show dramatic drying trends in the next 30 to 40 years.

“[Kurzweil] is comparing a time when we scarcely had any droughts to a period that has been quite dry. Precipitation can vary widely and our climate models don’t show this clear drying signal…if anything climate models show that precipitation may increase just a little bit,” Goble said.

“Yes it’s getting warmer, yes we do need to be concerned about that, yes it does put pressure on our environmental systems. However I don’t like comparing [1985-1999 to 2010-2021] specifically because you are capturing the high side and the low side,” Goble said, referring to the time periods MSI used in its analysis.

Kurzweil acknowledges that the megadrought has exacerbated the drying seen in Durango’s river systems, but he said he thinks the trend will likely continue, in part because though Northern Colorado could see more precipitation as its climate warms, Southwestern Colorado could be drier because it is so much farther south.

The Florida and Animas rivers are part of the San Juan/Miguel/Dolores river basin. Regional officials are tracking the local trends closely.

Ken Curtis is general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District in Cortez, a 50-minute drive west of Durango. Curtis is working with a slate of forest, climate and water specialists to find ways to create healthier forests that are less prone to wildfires and better able to sustain water production as the climate continues to warm up.

“Clearly the southwest is a drier area than the northern parts of Colorado,” Curtis said. “Climatologically we’re closer to a desert and we are at lower latitudes.”

Durango’s Biggs said the city had been planning to build a pipeline from Lake Nighthorse, a federal reservoir built in the early 2000s, at some point in the future to provide access to more storage. But such a project, likely to cost tens of millions of dollars, had been seen as a long-term goal, not an immediate need.

The new analysis has prompted Durango to fast-track the project and to keep its eye on ongoing and new conservation efforts.

“Presenting the data to our decision makers compelled them to move ahead with something we had been thinking about for quite some time,” Biggs said.

“Now, we want to activate this water in the near term. We don’t want to be in a situation where in five years we need it and we still haven’t built the pipeline,” Biggs said.

Durango is working with regional partners including the Southern Ute Tribe, in Ignacio, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, in Towaoc, as well as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and others to see if the pipeline can be built in the next five years and provide benefits to everyone in the region.

“We all know the future is uncertain, but Kurzweil painted a realistic picture that shows that everybody’s sentiments are true. We are going to have to do with less water…so in the same breath when we talk about a pipeline we also have to talk about conservation,” Biggs said.

And it’s not just conservation and storage. Local planners are also thinking about worst-case scenarios and emergency backups.

“It’s really tricky,” Kurzweil said. “When you’re trying to do municipal planning you need to look at not just the day-to-day but at the catastrophic. There is a real-life scenario on the Florida when supply is critically low, and a pipeline breaks and there is wildfire and an unplanned spill.”

“There is a universe where that exists. I hope it’s not ours,” he said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at or @jerd_smith.

Animas River just north of downtown Durango. By Ahodges7 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Vail installs Gutter Bins to stop 27.8 tons of pollution from reaching Gore Creek each year — The #Vail Daily

Photo credit: Frog Creek Partners

Click the link to read the article on the Vail Daily website (Ali Longwell). Here’s an excerpt:

Supported by a Colorado Department of Health and Environment Grant, Frog Creek Partners installed 278 new Gutter Bins throughout town

Last week, a crew from Frog Creek Partners traveled throughout Vail to install Gutter Bin stormwater filtration systems across a quarter of the town’s stormwater drains to capture debris and pollution before it reaches Gore Creek. Each year, these 278 Gutter Bins will stop approximately 27.8 tons (or 55,600 pounds) of pollution from reaching Gore Creek, according to Brian Deurloo, Frog Creek’s president and founder. Vail has a total of 1,100 stormwater inlets — the open grates in the street — that flow to about 550 outfalls in Gore Creek. These open grates are different from sanitary sewers, which take water from items like sinks, toilets and washing machines through a wastewater treatment process before being discharged to the creek…

What this equates to is “a lot of opportunities for pollution to be introduced into Gore Creek through our stormwater system,” said Pete Wadden, the town’s watershed health specialist.

This pollution comes both directly from people dumping things into the stormwater drains or indirectly from the pollutants that run off the roadways, Wadden said. The latter include road salt, sand, cinders, dust from brakes, leaked oil from cars, and more…

…for many years, the town has been seeking cheaper alternatives to capture pollutants. In 2018, Vail discovered Frog Creek Partners’ Gutter Bins and installed several at the public works site and at Stephens Park…

“We’ve been really happy with how they’ve performed. They’re capturing something like 40 to 80 pounds of sediment and trash every six months when we go out and empty them,” Wadden said.

Credit: Frog Creek Partners

Time is ripe for rural climate action: #Colorado Farm & Food Alliance wants to create a model for bringing resources to the regions facing the most severe risk from #ClimateChange — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate

(Lance Cheung/USDA/Public Domain Mark 1.0)

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Pete Kolbenschlag):

There is no better time to invest in rural Colorado and in climate action. The best science is telling us that the window is still slamming shut for staving off significantly worse effects from climate change. Congress might be focused on the debt limit and spending cuts, but we should not be distracted by the drama.

Still, for those who insist on weighing the price of action or inaction today as a bottom line, take note: The future in which we do not act to avert this cascading catastrophe will be far more expensive than almost any future in which we did.

The good news is that there is more funding available than ever to help rural communities transition into 21st century economies that center conservation, climate action, and prosperity. The catch is that they need to participate to get these resources. And for many small communities, that in itself is a burden that may be too much to overcome.

Smart investment in frontline climate action needs to make it to the regions facing the most severe risk from climate change. It needs to reach the places that have borne and will bear the impacts from past and current fossil fuel activity. And it needs to be accessed by the communities that have the furthest to go to catch up in metrics of prosperity, including income, education, and access to housing, jobs, and services. But many of these places, needing such investments the most, do not have development staff or lobbyists in Denver or Washington, D.C.

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In response to these constraints, my organization, the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance, is seeking to assist the North Fork Valley, where we are based, to find these federal and state partnerships that can bring those resources here. And we want to do it in a way that serves as a model for what rural climate leadership looks like.

Crops below solar panels. Credit: NREL

Recently we were the named recipient in a national prize to spur community solar projects. This award is for a collaborative, community-based project that we are helping lead that will pair solar energy and farming in a practice called agrivoltaics. As exciting as this pilot project is, for us and we hope for others watching, it will truly be a success if it is followed by meaningful investments that make more ideas like this possible — such as state policy changes to smooth the way for rural electric co-ops to facilitate and integrate more community solar projects.

For starters, here are three places where smart state and local policy should align to ensure that historic federal investments are making a difference for rural communities.

  1. Expanding community-based rural renewables
  2. Strengthening land and watershed health and resilience
  3. Boosting and incentivizing farm-based ecosystem services

So, while it is the case that the debt-ceiling debate has shifted media and other attention to competing economic needs and proposals, it is worth recounting why investment now in climate action remains more critical than ever.

In our recent report, “Gunnison Basin-Ground Zero in a Climate Emergency,” we lay out clearly the high stakes of failure to act. It all adds up to more human suffering, declining environmental health, and severe economic hardship. Most importantly, though, and on point, is that this report lays out the path for action. It makes the case that western Colorado is particularly well suited to be a national leader in rural-based climate leadership. But to get there, we need government partners that prioritize those outcomes.

We are grateful for federal investments that can drive this type of thoughtful, innovative and scalable climate action, especially for frontline, transitioning, and disproportionately impacted communities. And certainly, Congress ought not “claw back” or otherwise diminish that funding. Climate action is an imperative and rural America should not be left behind.

So we are also eager to see that investment show up in our communities now. We are ready to make a difference before the window for effective climate action slams shut. There is no more time to delay and an incredible opportunity to act. Smart investment now will help rural Colorado, and help all of us to succeed.

Archuleta County approves funds for septic permitting — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver

Septic system

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

On May 16, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) approved a budget amendment allocating $225,331 in Local Assistance and Tribal Contingency Fund (LATCF) monies received from the federal government to the Development Services Division and $137,428 in LATCF monies to the Public Health Department to support transition to a county health department. The money allocated to Development Services is intended to support the county’s water quality program, including permitting for on- site wastewater treatment systems (OWTS), as well as other environmental health programs that will be the responsibility of the department, according to Finance Director Chad Eaton…

At the request of [Derek] Woodman, [Pamela] Flowers also discussed process changes in the issuing of OWTS permits and the interactions between SJBPH and the county that had slowed the process of construction for new builds. She also mentioned that the county would need to purchase a permit processing system, although she had not chosen one yet…She noted she is working on regu- lations for OWTS that will need to be approved by the county and the state and will provide the basis for permitting in the county.

The Pagosa Area Water & Sanitation District board approves $40 million #water plant contract — The #PagosaSprings Sun

The water treatment process

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

At a May 25 special meeting, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved contracts with PCL Construction and Veolia Water Technologies and Solutions for construction of and equipment for the Snowball Water Treatment Plant project. According to the contract with PCL, the guaranteed maximum price (GMP) for the project is $40,565,680…The meeting opened with District Engineer/Manager Justin Ramsey explaining that the con- tract with PCL is for the construction work on the plant…He added that PCL’s contract costs also include the costs associated with the Veolia and Pall contracts…

[Director Ramsey] also clarified the reasons why PAWSD is undertaking the project, explaining that the main reason is the regulatory requirements of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

‘We’re battling the mountain.’ Debris flows and snow test #Utah canyons: Saturated soils, #snowpack deliver a cleanup mess for authorities — The Deseret News

Types of landslide movement.

Click the link to read the article on The Deseret News website (Amy Joi O’Donoghue). Here’s an excerpt:

“I’ve been here for 11 years now and I have not seen anything like this in that amount of time. This has been one of the biggest snow years we have had. We’ve had localized issues and runoff issues.” — Dave Whittekiend


Tanners Flat Campground in Little Cottonwood Canyon took a particularly hard hit. A bathroom was wiped out. There are downed trees everywhere…Greg McDonald, senior geologist with the Utah Geological Survey, said a debris flow closed the road in Little Cottonwood Canyon six weeks ago. It caused substantial damage, only to be followed by another one a couple of weeks later. The sloughing off of a mountainside is because of overly saturated soils that simply give way to the movement of the ground…

West snowpack basin-filled map April 16, 2023 via the NRCS.

The winter has spoken. Record snowpack. Elevated Great Salt Lake levels. Landslides and over-the-top records for stream flows. Raging rivers and streams and yet more to come. Anyone in the business of hydrology, meteorology, geology, water supply and public safety knows it is a fickle game, from year to year.

2023 #COleg: Governor Polis Signs Bipartisan Bills into Law in Eastern #Colorado

The Arikaree River in 2000 in early summer, when water is near its maximum extent. Photo: Kurt Fausch

From email from Governor Polis’ office:

YUMA – Today [June 3, 2023], Governor Polis is signing legislation into law.

“Water is the lifeblood of our state, which is why I was proud to be in Yuma County today to sign legislation right here in the Republican River Basin that builds upon our data-driven approach to preserving and protecting our precious water resources,” said Gov. Polis. “Making sure that Coloradans can access high-quality, affordable health care has been our top priority since day one, and I look forward to signing legislation today at Byers Health Care Clinic to save people money on health care and cut red tape.”

This morning in Yuma, Gov. Polis signed the bipartisan HB23-1220 Study Republican River Groundwater Economic Impact sponsored by Representatives Richard Holtorf and Karen McCormick, Senators Byron Pelton and Rod Pelton, to take a data-driven approach to understanding the economics of groundwater conservation in the Republican River Basin, while helping to ensure that Colorado continues meeting the obligations spelled out in our interstate compacts. 

At the Byers Health Care Clinic in Byers, Gov. Polis will sign the bipartisan SB23-298 Allow Public Hospital Collaboration Agreements – Representatives Karen McCormick and Rod Bockenfeld, Senators Bob Gardner and Dylan Roberts to encourage collaborative agreements between rural hospitals while maintaining adequate oversight to ensure rural Coloradans can maintain needed hospital services in their local areas. Rural hospitals provide lifesaving access to care for Coloradans and are often hubs for local economies and crucial job-providers, and ensuring they can work together helps to cut red tape and save Coloradans money on health care.